Friday, 13 December 2013

Theatre review: Beauty and the Beast (Young Vic)

A fairytale but definitely not a pantomime at the Young Vic's Maria, where Beauty and the Beast is more like Beauty and the breast. And the other breast. And some more breasts. And cocks and arses and filthy susans all over the place. Mat Fraser is an actor whose face is probably more familiar than his name from various bits of TV work, but he's probably best recognised by his arms: His mother took Thalidomide for her morning sickness so he was born with severely shortened bones in his arms and no thumbs. It was apparently his American wife Julie Atlas Muz who suggested Beauty and the Beast as a metaphor for how they met, and instead of divorcing her he's brought it to a stage with her, as well as a pair of actors they describe as their "puppeteer slaves," Jess Mabel Jones and Jonny Dixon. Talking teapots not included.

Most of the time, the story being told here is the familiar fairytale of a beautiful girl whose father picks the wrong rose at the wrong time, and ends up having to forfeit her liberty in return for his life. The longer Beauty stays in his castle, the less she sees her captor as a Beast - and he too starts to believe he might not be the monster he's been told he is. Opening with a nicely DIY take from Jones and Dixon on the projections ubiquitous to theatre at the moment, the story's action expands out onto Philip Eddols' cleverly-designed split-level set, largely following the usual PG trajectory for the first half of the story.


It's once more of an attraction starts to form between the two characters that the show starts to justify the XXX rating on the posters. It's not just that the pair's idea of subtle flirtation is the to spend the rest of the show in a state ofFULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY ALERT!andSEVERE VADGE WARNING!which, by the end, the other two actors have also joined them in (this is only the second-ever show I've seen where the entire cast take their final bows naked.) There's also a brilliant twist on the idea that Beast doesn't like to be watched eating - sexually-suggestive fruit and vegetables are such a comedy standard you'd think you'd seen every extreme it could be taken to, but Fraser and Muz have found another, disgustingly funny level.


The fiction is interspersed with the story of how the couple met in real life while doing a season at Coney Island, where he was looking for an alternative to the "disability arts scene" and she was the top burlesque performer - her extract from her twisted striptease act "The Hand" is hilarious. Although, either I misunderstood something, or the pair say they were both married to other people when they first met, then never mention this again. The show aims to be, like Fraser's arms, "small but perfectly deformed," and making something so in-your-face sexual while still retaining a sense of fairytale sweetness is a tricky thing to pull off, but this Beauty and the Beast manages it.

Beauty and the Beast by Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz is booking until the 21st of December at the Young Vic's Maria.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

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